The right to own what you buy in this digital age.

The right of first sale.

You bought a software package a few years back. You came home & installed it on your computer. Now you want to buy a different software package because it is more up to date. You decided to go with a completely different software package simply because it has more bells & whistles than your original software package or maybe it’s just easier to use. Chances are, you will be able to uninstall the original software package and remove it from your computer system completely. BIG HOWEVER: you are not going to be able to re-sell it to someone else because when it was installed, it was registered in your name and in your name only. Read the fine print, it probably says something about not being able to transfer it to someone else.

You bought a music cd at the local superstore a couple of years ago. You listened to it till your eyeballs rolled inward and your ears went numb. Your cousin loves that cd and offers you a couple of bucks for it. Sold! Happy cousin and you have money to help with your next purchase.

You bought a few music tracks at the online store last year and put them on your portable mp3 player. You listened to it and now you are bored with it. Because of the digital rights management (DRM) system on the digital music, you can’t transfer it to another. You cannot resell it because you are done listening to it. Your cousin cannot buy it from you because the publisher won’t let you transfer the DRM-protected music.

Something to think about: in a time not too long ago, a person went into a store, bought something with a physical presence, used it as long as they wanted to and if they could find someone who would buy it from them after they were done with it, they sold it (or maybe gave it away). Today and in the foreseeable future, when you buy something in digital form, in most cases, you no longer have the right to do with your purchase as you see fit. Take a close look at the fine print: you are buying a lease that gives you the right to use that product for your own personal use until you no longer (or the company no longer wants you to) use that product. No refund, not even a partial refund. You cannot even give it to a family member to own.

Now, why am I ranting and raving about this? The world is moving towards everything that used to be written, to being digital. It’s a shame that if I buy a digital item that I automatically lose the rights to do with it as I please when I’m done using it. If I buy an e-book, when I’m done reading it I cannot donate it to the local library like I can with a printed book. Interestingly, an online bookseller has a hardcover paper edition of a title for sale starting at under 8 dollars new, while the e-book edition is $8.99. The publisher has less money invested in the production of the e-book, yet the hardcover edition is cheaper. What’s sad is that as the holder of the more expensive edition (e-book), you have less control over the use of that e-book than if you owned the printed copy. With the printed copy, you can lend it to your friends, trade with your friends, sell it, or even donate it to your local library. With an electronic version, you can’t. Or at least it looks like you can lend it (with restrictions) to your friends assuming you both have the same kind of e-reader. The problem with the digital age, is that once you buy it, you truly become the end user. Or should I say the end and only user of it. There is no passing it on to your kids, there is no resell value like that old pristine AC/DC vinyl album with the fancy artwork on it. And you’re going to pay more for it.

We’re the consumers. We have the right to refuse these draconian rules that are being imposed on us. Let the software and e-book publishers know what you want. It’s your money, make them work for it.

And while I’m at it, I really don’t want to get started about the use of acidic paper in books when the industry could easily switch to acid-free paper. There’s a reason old books last forever and new books don’t. It’s the paper. So I guess the industry has found a way to limit our use of paper-based books too: acidic paper that literally burns itself up with time. Have you noticed that slow tan color of the paper in your favorite bestseller? Have you noticed how that book that you used to read in the 80’s is full of brittle paper? That rant is for another day.

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